Chapter Forty-eight





"Shouldn't I stay with you?"

Paige led Shane and Greta toward the opposite end of the cellar, past the furnace, toward the shed.

Shining the flashlight onto the variety of snow removal and gardening tools, she spotted, of all things, a crowbar. Smiling, she picked it up, then handed it and the flashlight to Shane.

"Take these."

"But . . .," he protested.

"Not buts," Paige said, then, "Can you make it to Troy in this weather?"

Shane nodded confidently. "If those Artic Cats are working," he said, opening his knapsack, and sticking the crowbar inside, "I can make it with my eyes closed."

"That won't be necessary," Paige said. "Keep 'em open and find the police station. Break the damn door down if you have to."

"Police stations close down at night?" Greta asked.

"Hey, it's Montana," Paige said. "Anything's possible. Have the head honcho contact Special Agent Wesley Selden, he's," she thought for a moment, remembering where Selden said he'd be if she wanted to talk, about anything, about Prince Charming. "Right," she continued, "Selden's working out of the Denver office. Can you remember that?"

Greta nodded, then pulled a half-sized pen from an inside pocket in her ski jacket. "Wesley Selden," she said, writing the name down on the back of her hand. "Denver."

"If he asks for proof, give him this: May 22, 1992."

"What is it?" Shane asked.

"The day I graduated Quantico," Paige explained. "Selden will remember that day."

"Got it," Greta said.

"Tell him," Paige continued, "that I'm trapped here with Elliot Haring."

"That's all," Greta asked.

"That's enough. Selden'll take care of everything from there."

Greta and Shane turned away from Paige, and took a step toward the sliding wooden door.

"Come with us," Shane said.

His voice was tender, pleading, it almost reminded her of Steve's when he first mentioned this vacation, how he told her all about Alison and Peter's good fortune, how he wanted to help them celebrate, and how, most of all, he wanted her to accompany him, to meet his closest friends, to be part of that circle.

"No," Paige said, shaking her head positively. "I've got some unfinished business here."

Paige and Shane held each other's glance for a long beat. She stared into his beautiful blue eyes, his warm eyes.

Maybe in another lifetime, she thought, and then Greta broke the moment.

"Thank you," Greta said.

Nodding to herself, as if to shake all such thoughts free, Paige turned and gave Greta a hug, then she squeezed Shane's hand.

"Take care of her," Paige said.

"You take care," Greta said.

"I will."

Then Greta unzipped her jacket, and pulled open the collar of her sweater, retrieving the cherub-covered crucifix. She looked at it for a moment.

"This has brought me a lot of luck," Greta said, thinking, after all, and lifting the chain from around her neck, pressing it and the cross into Paige's hands. "I want you to have it."

"I can't take this," Paige said.

"Please," Greta said.

"Okay," Paige said finally, nodding, seeing the resolve in the young woman's eyes. She clasped her fingers around the cross. "Thank you."

"See you when this is over," Shane said, opening the sliding door that led outside.

The cold blasted in, and beyond it the darkness. A black hole of frigid fury waiting to swallow alive anything willing to dispute its force.

"Yeah," Paige said, wrapping her arms around herself, watching them climb up onto a frozen snow drift, "I'll buy you a beer at the Hog's Breath."

She watched after them, until she could stand the cold no longer, until that black hole devoured everything but a flickering pin-point from the flashlight, and then that, snuffing it all out.

Then sliding the door shut, Paige returned to the basement, and the furnace, pressing herself against it again. Warming herself, numbing herself, thinking, wanting Steve's arms around her, his loving arms around her.

Taking the gold chain and slipping it over her neck, Paige lifted the crucifix, looked at it for a moment, staring Jesus Christ in the eye -- wondering why he'd let this happen, as if He or his Father had any control -- and the cherubs, then dropping it down her shirt, where it landed, Christ and company swinging between her breasts.

Waiting now . . . waiting for the explosion of violence she knew would soon erupt.

Turning, her back against the furnace, Paige slid down to the floor, sitting, pulling her knees close, wrapping her arms around them, her two pistols on the cement beside her, in quick and easy reach.

The flames of the huge machine danced at her feet, flickering . . . glinting . . . shining?

Scrunching up her features, Paige looked down at the metallic spark radiating from the heel of her Doc Marten boots. She touched a fingertip to it. A 9mm bullet. Imbedded into the acid-resistant rubber.

An inch higher and it would have blown away her heel.

Steve again, she figured, maybe he really was watching out for her now. Waiting to enjoy the revenge that would soon be hers.

"I miss you," she said, suddenly feeling more alone than she could ever remember, more alone than on that night, so long ago, when she crept back into her dorm, and washed away the violations in a never ending shower.

And then the tears came.

Paige couldn't help it, and she couldn't stop them. The image of what Elliot had done, with such casual ease. As if squashing a flea.

Paige knew that the next time she took aim at the sonofabitch, there'd be nothing casual about her demeanor. Nothing easy, except pulling the trigger. And it didn't matter if Elliot was armed. Nothing matter, not this time.

There'd be no thought involved there. Just reflex. Pure and simple. Every muscle, every organ in her body, joining forces.

As for watching him die, Paige wasn't sure how she'd feel. Certainly no remorse, yet she knew it changed nothing.

It certainly wouldn't bring back Steve.

Still, in the end, Elliot's death would be the most humane ending for all involved.

Except for possibly Elliot.

"But then, life's a bitch," Paige said, pressing her head back against the furnace, picking up her Pocketlite, making sure the safety was off, and that a round was chambered, "and now I'm going to kill you."





Chapter Forty-nine





"Hear this Paige Turner!"

She had fucked with Elliot, she had fucked with his methodical order. And he was not about to stand idly by and watch as freedom evaporated, as his wealth remained untouched, as the pleasures he had earned, had worked so hard for, were plucked from his grasp.

He herded the four remaining guests into the great room.

Lauren followed. She was frightened, tentative. In all of her years with him, she had never seen Elliot so livid. So flushed. He was sweating, crying. Ranting and raving out at the top of his lungs.

Yet, he said nothing to her or the guests, except to: "Move! Fast! Now!"

Everything else, all else, was addressed to Paige.

"I will find you," Elliot yelled. "And I will kill you!" He stomped on the floor of the great room, screaming down at the wood planks. "Understand. You are not, I repeat, you are not getting out of here alive."

The shouting brought Paige from the cocoon of heat provided by the furnace.

Guns in hand, she stood now, under the great room, near that huge fireplace.

Paige could hear all of what Elliot said, the sound carried down by the heating ducts, carried and amplified, and echoed by the hard concrete walls and floor of the cellar. It was like being in the same room.

"Care to bet on that?" she whispered.

"Come out, come out, where ever you are," Elliot barked. "I've got three throwaway lives up here, can you sit back and listen to them die? Or will you serve and protect, as you promised in your oath?"

"Elliot, please," Lauren said, looking at each of the lodge guests. Her voice was nervous, her mind reeling. Was this how he acted on that Christmas Eve, scaring that family half to death? She couldn't face it, and she wasn't sure if she could stand another moment.

Elliot ignored Lauren's call.

"What's it going to be Paige Turner?" he said, turning, lunging toward the four guests.

They were seated on the floor, huddled together, off to the side of the fireplace.

Elliot pointed a finger at Alison, yelled, "you!" then grabbed her by her hair, lifting her to her feet.

"Don't," Peter wailed.

Elliot jammed his pistol hard under Alison's jaw, and smiled at the man.

Tears came to Peter's eyes. "Please," he whimpered.

"You had your chance, Peter," Elliot said, snorting out a laugh. Then, he turned to Lauren, ordered her to, "Watch him," as he dragged Alison to he center of the huge room.

"Welcome to 'Save My Life'" Elliot began, sounding like game show host on Crack, flamboyant and incensed. "Today's first contestant is . . . what'd you say your name was, honey?"

Alison didn't answer. Instead she found herself choking back tears. No matter how strong she tried to be, she could never be that strong. Just get it over with, she thought. Please just kill me now.

"I said, what the fuck was your name?"

Elliot voice was so furious that it could have competed with the rage of nature outside, as it rattled off the walls. It could have frightened the blizzard away.

"Alison," she answered, weakly.

"I doubt that our audience in the basement, the cheap seats, can hear that," Elliot boomed.

"Alison Bloom."

"What a pretty name for such a . . . hideous creature."

"Christ!" Paige muttered.

She was right under them now, she was sure of it. Paige could feel the pressure of their footsteps as they moved. Hear the creaks in the tired floor boards. Should she risk firing? Or would she just hit Alison by mistake?

"Now," Elliot continued, "Are you ready to play, 'Save My Life?'"

Alison nodded imperceptibly.

"I can't hear you!" Elliot yelled right into her face, his breath tinged with spite.

"Yes," Alison said.

"Don't do this," Peter said, "Please."

"Oops," Elliot said, wagging a finger at Peter. "Talking is against the rules."

He looked at Alison.

"Now I'm afraid I'll have to penalize our contestant . . .," Elliot grabbed her wrist, her left wrist, and raised it up high, ". . . one . . .," then placed the muzzle of his Beretta against the palm of her hand, ". . . hand."

He pulled the trigger.

"Enjoy that one, Paige?" Elliot cupped his mouth, yelled at the floor. "Amazing how precise the Beretta is. A clean hole, right through the palm of her hand."

He addressed Alison, who had collapsed to her knees, only her hand still held high in Elliot's grasp. "That didn't hurt at all, did it, baby? Bet you can still wiggle your fingers."

"Enough, Elliot."

He turned. It was Lauren.

Instead of watching the others, she was taking a step away from them, facing Elliot. Her gun aimed in his direction, the safety off. The safety definitely off. Tears were welling in her eyes. She had seen enough. This wasn't the man she had known, and loved to the very core of her soul. This was some hideous creature she barely recognized, one she'd take a pass on knowing, on spending the rest of her life with.

"You talkin' to me?" Elliot said, laughing, suddenly doing a little Robert DeNiro-like saunter with his voice. "You must not be talkin' to me."

"She isn't your father," Lauren said, standing her ground. Pointing at Alison.

Elliot's eyes went wide. He began to stammer, the words catching in his throat. "How dare you?" Elliot managed, lifting the gun, almost aiming it at her, his hand shaking with rage. "How dare you even suggest . . . ?"

"There's no reason for this," Lauren said, forcing a calmness, the seductiveness back into her tone. "Please, I'm begging you."

"Then maybe there's a reason for this," Elliot said, turning sharply away from her.

He begin firing into the floor, shooting at his feet, at Alison's feet, everywhere, and all around them, hitting nothing by the wide planks, splintering the wood, cracking the polished finish.

The bullets opened up streams of light, pinlights really, in the cellar, making it seem almost like a nightclub from outer space,

Paige moved, she dashed this way and that, right and left, not sure if she should stand still, or keep moving. The shots were randomly spaced, that buckshot effect, aim at everything and hope you connect. Everything except the edges. It was as if Elliot knew the exact location of every ounce of plastic explosive, and not one shot was even close.

The next bullet shattered a copper pipe that ran under the floor boards, unleashing a torrent of hot water, spraying the area above Paige's head, like a sprinkler system in hell.

A little too close, and a little too hot, for comfort, at least as far as she was concerned.

Paige needed a way out and quick. Should she venture outside? No, that would be suicide. Upstairs would actually be safer, she thought. But which way, stairs or chute? She ran toward the laundry room, figuring she'd make that decision when she got there.

Bob was watching Lauren.

Her back was to them, her gun aimed low, yet still in Elliot's direction, while he fumed, and paid no one any mind.

No one except Paige. Shooting into the floor, like a madman. Shot after shot, and when the clip as empty, he'd discharge it, kick it away, then reload, pulling another from his back pocket. And he'd be shooting again, his eyes wide and wild, flashing with typhoon rage.

Typhoon Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Elliot felt his blood boiling. His ears red, his face flushed. His heart so heavy with remorse, with wrath, that it sunk into his stomach and died there.

He wanted Paige dead so badly, he could taste the cordials her family would drink at the post-funeral gathering. That was a party he wouldn't miss for the world.

Lauren watched, her mouth open, her guard down. Tears came, but for what, for whom? Was she crying because the future, their future, could never be. That this was not the Elliot of her past. Or because she knew she'd have to kill him. And soon, before nothing of her world remained.

Bob's gaze flicked back and forth between Lauren and Elliot. He knew it was now or never.

He knew it would have to be now.

Standing behind Vivian, Bob slipped his hand slowly up the back of her long sweater. She swallowed hard once at his touch, gasping imperceptibly at the coldness of his hands, but if he was willing, if he was able, then so be it.

Grasping her Colt Detective Special -- it was the most fluid movement of Bob's life, a rush of motion really -- Bob lunged toward Lauren Devereaux, wrapped a powerful arm around her throat, and pulled back.

Lauren let out a blood curdling wail as Bob pressed the muzzle of the gun against her head.

"Drop it," he whispered into her ear, pulling back against her throat. "Drop it now. I've got nothing to lose. None of us have anything to lose."

Lauren felt powerless. She could feel herself gagging, becoming feverish, the red-faced heat of being trapped.

She lowered her hand, opened her fingers, and let the Beretta fall to the floor.

It was better this way, Lauren figured. Better and safer and . . . Elliot would put his weapon down, and it would be over. Over and done with. No more violence. No more death. Just . . . well . . . she wasn't sure what?

It just had to be better.

Elliot saw the action as a blur -- a smear of colors, the blue of Bob's jeans, the browns and whites of his striped sweatshirt, the silver sheen of the pistol, like Elizabeth Taylor's diamond-covered wrists, filmed just slightly out-of-focus so that the sparkles would override the wrinkles.

His mouth open, a howl that never came. Elliot stepped toward Vivian, grabbed the collar of her sweater, and pulled her into a similar headlocked pose, pushing the muzzle of his gun into her cheek, leaving an immediate circle of white against her otherwise flushed skin.

The two men glared at one another.

Bob felt as if he were in a Gary Cooper film, and that Elliot was holding Grace Kelly. Not that Vivian looked anything like the Princess of Monaco, or, for that matter, the time was anywhere near high noon. It was almost midnight, low midnight.

Only a few minutes to go.

Peter crawled over to Alison. He took her into his arms, and held her, tearing at his shirt, wrapping the cloth around her hand, anything to stop the bleeding, he'd give anything to stop her pain.

Alison huddled against him, her face buried against his chest. Her eyes closed. It hurt too much. It hurt so fucking much.

"So," Elliot said, breaking a silence accented only by whimpering and breaths.

Holding Vivian's throat with his good hand, Elliot could feel the heat of her fear. He inhaled deeply. What a lovely smell, Elliot thought, almost wanting to lick it off her, almost wanting to taste what it's like to know you're going to die.

"So," Bob answered.

He couldn't take his eyes off Elliot's, or the gun. He watched the gun, and movement of his fingers, any sudden jerk. Lauren was so still against him. No tears, no movement. Just a quiet resolve.

"Please, put down the gun, Elliot," Lauren said. "It's over."

"Hardly, my dear," Elliot said, eyes locked with Bob. "Do we stare at one another all night?" he asked.

"I don't think so," Bob said.

"What then?"

"We get it over with."

"If you say so."

Bob was the first to move. He turned the pistol and pulled the trigger.

The first bullet caught Vivian in the shoulder. She glared at her partner, her mouth open in shock.

"What are you doing?" she said.

Elliot laughed, and whispered into her ear. "You were so anxious to revenge your sister's death, you'd believe anything."

Elliot pulled away from her, leaving her standing alone, a target, as helpless as was her sister.

"You were obsessed," Bob explained. "You'd have chased Elliot until the end of time." He squeezed off another round. This one hit her in the chest, making her cough up blood, and begin to wheeze. "We couldn't have that," he added, as the next bullet caught her throat. And the last blew off most of her forehead.

Elliot watched as the woman fell to the floor. The expression tacked to Vivian's face was not of pain, or anger, or even confusion, but of defeat. She had lost the game that began the moment Elliot came crashing into her sister's Bedford Falls home. And the score wasn't even close.

Smiling, Elliot turned back to face Bob and Lauren.

"Your turn," Bob said, pressing his pistol back against Lauren's face.

She looked at Elliot as if he were a stranger, a demon. Lauren had felt the change, but never could she have imagined this. To be betrayed . . . gone was the young man she had so long ago fallen in love with, replaced by . . . she wasn't sure what?

"If only you could see the look on your face," Elliot said, his voice soft and romantic, shattering her thoughts, as he raised his pistol toward her, taking one step forward, then another.

"Why?" Lauren asked, wishing not that she had gotten to him first, but that she had left well enough alone. She had vanished once, she should have stayed that way, could have, living with the memories, moving on.

"Because, my dear," Elliot explained. "It completes the picture. They find your remains, the mysterious, and long lost Lauren Devereaux, as well those of a man," he turned and gestured lovingly at Peter, "who more than fits my description." He shrugged, "And with my prosthetic hand. There'll be no search. No one will doubt for a minute that Elliot Haring is dead."

"While you're . . . ?" Lauren began.

"While Bob and I are enjoying the splendor of that Caribbean retreat."

"It sounded lovely," Bob said.

"Didn't it?" Elliot replied, then to Lauren, cocking his head in such a condescending fashion, "I'm sure I'll find another lovely to take your place."

"I hate you," Lauren said, thinking how she felt when she spotted him again. She was watching from her bedroom window. Elliot, walking toward the lodge, carrying his bags, his skis, making like a business man on vacation. Then touching him finally, seeing his eyes, feeling him that next night.

Part of the plan.

Part of the escape.

The beginning of the lives together.

Freedom, he promised her.

Freedom.

Elliot took a few extra steps forward, and pressed the gun against Lauren's temple. He inhaled deeply, smiled slightly, then nodded his head once.

"Goodnight, my dear," he said.

"Goodnight, Elliot," she said.

He pulled the trigger.

And, as promised, Lauren Devereaux was free.



November 7, 1996



I bet you want to know all about me...

I'm twenty-eight, born November 17, 1967 (Yes, that makes me a Scorpio to your Virgo), in Orlando, Florida, where I now own Hair Raisers, a hair styling salon.

I'm proud to say I have a staff of stylists as good as any in Miami. I'm as good as any stylist in Miami, in New York, anywhere. And have a loyal client base that proves it. (A very loyal client base, which understands my need to never work weekends, that I enjoy having my weekends to do with as I please. And you, more than anyone else, know what pleases me.)

Actually, Paige, I have everything a Prince could want, money, good looks, and even my health . . . mostly.

Though the doctors all seemed to believe it isn't a physical problem, one medical science could help cure.

"Then what's wrong with me?" I've asked time and again.

But it seems there are no easy answers.

Until . . . late one rainy afternoon in early July 1994, as I was about to close up for the day, a young woman came rushing into my shop. She wore a yellow rain slicker, with a hood over her head.

I informed her that Hair Raisers was closing, and if she liked, she could make an appointment for later in the week.

The young woman begged. She pleaded. Her green eyes flashing under the yellow hood. Her parents were coming to town, their first trip to Disney World, and she wanted to look nice.

Having no place else to go, and no one to go home to, I motioned toward a chair, and told her to take a seat.

She was ecstatic. I was simply bored.

But watching her as she removed the yellow slicker, my breath caught in my throat, at the sudden and lustrous sight of her hair.

It was such a deep beautiful red, so silky, so effervescent, so long, so . . . real.

I couldn't wait to get my hands into it.

As I styled, the young woman proudly explained that she, in fact, worked at Disney World.

"I'm Sleeping Beauty," she exclaimed.

"But your hair is red," I said, feeling my voice break, my heart beating so hard as I trimmed, as I felt the warmth radiating from her neck, that I worried it would explode and implode, all at the same time.

"It's all a costume," she said, giggling, "A long yellow wig."

A long yellow wig.

She was just playing a role, blending into Mr. Walt Disney's magical kingdom.

When I was through, the young woman thanked me profusely, tipping me above and beyond, leaning up and kissing me even on the cheek, leaving me speechless as she disappeared into the Orlando night.

For days, I could not get her off his mind. She was my red-headed Sleeping Beauty. My Princess. And at night, when I touched myself (we all touch ourselves at night, Paige), it was like never before. A rush, of adrenaline, of blood. My feelings surged, every nerve ending in my body alive . . . except one.

So close . . . so very close . . . but yet . . .

I needed her.

Her touch.

But I was fool, and waited too long.

A few weeks later, after finally dredging up the nerve, the internal energy, to visit Disney World, to make inquiries as to the beautiful redheaded woman who played Sleeping Beauty in the Electric Parade, I was told she no longer worked there, that she had quit suddenly to return home with her parents.

My Princess had vanished . . .



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